What Rough Beasts

Q&A w/ Seth Chambers
author of What Rough Beasts

Isotropic Fiction has had the pleasure of publishing Seth Chambers’ short and novella length fiction, including “We Happy Few” in IF06 and IF07 andAnklyotherapy” in IF04. Later this summer, IF will be publishing What Rough Beasts, a collection of Seth’s short stories.

Seth Chambers lives in Chicago where he makes a living riding a bike and teaching English as a foreign language. His work has appeared in Alien Skin Magazine, and Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. With all the fun we’ve had reading his work at Isotropic Fiction, we couldn’t think of a better person for the inaugural subject of IF’s new author interview series.

Isotropic Fiction: If there’s one core, potentially life-changing (or mind-expanding) idea you really want to drive home for readers with your story. What is it?
Seth Chambers: Reality is far more wondrous, weird and synchronistic than it seems.


IF: What inspires you?
SC: Oh, so very much inspires me! White water rafting, chess, trains, the Everglades, mountain hiking, kayaking, spirituality, quantum mechanics, my cats, my wife. Sailing and snorkeling in Hawaii. Also birds and their ancestors (the dinosaurs).

Music, of course. Classic Rock, Blues, Classical, Baroque. The Synchronicity album (Police), the queen’s aria from Magic Flute. Ted Nugent, Koko Taylor, George Thoroughgood and Ozzie when I’m in a rowdy mood. Chopin when I’m calm.

Documentaries (or, as I call them, dinomentaries). College lectures from The Great Courses have sent my mind reeling happily down some exciting roads.

As far as literature goes: Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Thoreau, the Wooster and Jeeves stories, Golden Age SF, PKD, hardboiled detective novels, the neurological case studies of Oliver Sacks. Hundreds and hundreds of books, stories, essays and authors who have expanded my horizons over the years. Plus, my addiction to Cracked.com.


Seth Chambers, author of the upcoming What Rough Beasts.

IF: Do you ever wish that you had an entirely uncreative job, like data entry or working in a factory?
SC: Oh, I’ve had a ton of those jobs already and if I want another I can always get one. I was out with friends and somebody asked if I ever worked as a server. I said no, but I’ve done everything else and challenged them to test this hypothesis. Everything they threw out, I did at one point or another. I’ve done a lot of interesting work, a lot of dangerous work. It’s given me tons of real life experience. What’s that Thoreau quote? “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” Well, I’ve stood up to live. So much of my life keeps coming back to Thoreau, but that’s a whole new topic.


IF: How much of your own life do you put into your writings?
SC: A lot, and often I don’t realize how much until I look the piece over later or somebody else points it out to me. For one thing, my blue-collar and military background really infuses my work. Many of my characters swear, drink beer and do odd jobs for a living. They know how to fight and handle weapons. They’ve got a DSM full of psychological maladies. This feels right to me because the future is going to affect absolutely everybody. If somebody builds a time-machine or super-weapon that screws up the world, we all suffer for it.


IF: Do you find it difficult to write in an age of infinite distractions? How do you keep your focus on a story during the writing process?
SC: Yes, indeed, infinite distractions, a multitude of ideas, endless To-Do lists, yowling felines, books to read, places to go and no end of options. If I just dive right in, no matter what I do it never feels right and so I go about it half-assed because so much else clamors for my attention. So there are three things I do to keep myself on track, centered and focused.

The first and foremost is a meditation practice. Without meditation, I tend to be all over the map. It really helps me simplify the equation of my thoughts and access the calm center rather than the swirling circumference. And, believe me, my circumference tends to swirl like crazy. Okay, that was your moment of Zen for the day.

The second thing is I now write most everything—journal entries, ideas, research notes, drafts of stories, chapters of novels, reminders, snatches of dialog, and so on—into a single notebook. And by “notebook” I don’t mean a laptop computer but an old-fashioned spiral-bound sketchpad. I go through a lot of them. The nice thing about this system is that I am continually reviewing everything whenever I open the book. I develop a more intimate relationship with the material. Everything gets integrated and takes on a strange new life. I’m sure this system is not for everyone, but it works for me, probably because I’m weird that way.

The third thing might seem a bit silly but it works. It’s a sort of reminder/affirmation that I keep handy, by my desk and in my notebook. The wording varies, but essentially it reads, “I CONCENTRATE SINGLE-MINDEDLY ON ONE THING AT A TIME.” The act of writing this out helps keep me focused. Also, when I’m alone, I affirm this aloud, over and over as I stride about my apartment doing deep breathing exercises. I did mention I’m weird, right?


IF: What’s your main goal when putting when putting the finishing polish on a story?
SC: My main goal is to simplify.
I revise compulsively, checking for internal consistency, going over sentence structure, hacking away superfluous words, etc. Are the verbs active? Are the sentences concise? Does the dialog ring true? I read aloud most of what I write and if something doesn’t sound right it gets revised or thrown out.


IF: What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
SC: Who says I’m sane? I jest, sort of. For me, writing is a sort of compulsion and it’s also therapy. It’s very important to write without censorship. Not everything has to go in front of a reader. Just as a gymnast puts in thousands of hours of practice for a few seconds of public exposure, a writer produces volumes of pages that may never be seen. At least, that’s true for me.


IF: Have you ever been in trouble with the police?
SC: No.


IF: What is the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
SC: That I’ve never been in trouble with the police.


Isotropic Fiction Dingbat

What Rough Beasts
Seth Chambers
Isotropic Fiction (August 2013)

Isotropic Fiction’s Author Interviews provides writers with the chance to discuss their inspiration, craft, and process with readers. Find new interviews on Isotropic Fiction every week.

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